France says US spying on presidents is ‘unacceptable’

Office of President Hollande says “it will not tolerate” acts by a foreign government that threaten France’s security.

The French government has denounced as “unacceptable” reports that the US wiretapped current leader Francois Hollande and former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the office of the French president said it “will not tolerate any acts, which jeopardise its safety and the protection of its interest”.

“Commitments were made by the US authorities,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement, referring to promises by the US in late 2013 not to spy on France’s leaders. “They must be remembered and strictly respected.”

The statement followed a meeting of France’s defence council called by President Hollande in response to the release of the documents by WikiLeaks on Tuesday. 

Related: The Spy Cables

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has also summoned the US ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, for a Wednesday afternoon meeting to discuss the report.

Opposition leader Marine Le Pen also said the wiretapping incidents prove that the US is not an ally of France, and called for suspension of trade talks with Washington DC. 

French newspaper Liberation and the Mediapart website reported on Tuesday that the spying spanned 2006 to 2012, quoting documents classed as “Top Secret” which include five reports from the US National Security Agency based on intercepted communications.

The most recent document is dated May 22, 2012, just days before Hollande took office, and reveals that the French leader “approved holding secret meetings in Paris to discuss the eurozone crisis, particularly the consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone”.

Another document dated 2008 was titled “Sarkozy sees himself as only one who can resolve world financial crisis”.

Spy scheme reviewed

Ever since documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed in 2013 that the NSA had been eavesdropping on the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it had been understood that the US had been using the digital spying agency to intercept the conversations of allied politicians.

Punishing the whistleblower?

Still, the new revelations are bound to cause diplomatic embarrassment for the US, even though it is not uncommon that allies spy on each other.

Hollande said last year that he discussed his concerns about NSA surveillance with President Barack Obama during a visit to the US, and they patched up their differences.

After the Merkel disclosures, Obama ordered a review of NSA spying on allies, after officials suggested that senior White House officials had not approved many operations that were largely on auto-pilot. After the review, American officials said Obama had ordered a halt to spying on the leaders of allied countries, if not their aides.

Neither Hollande’s office nor Washington would comment on the new leaks. Contacted Tuesday by AFP, Hollande’s aide said: “We will see what it is about.”

US State Department spokesman John Kirby meanwhile said: “We do not comment on the veracity or content of leaked documents.”

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said he was confident the documents were authentic, noting that WikiLeaks previous mass disclosures have proven to be accurate.

The release appeared to be timed to coincide with a vote in the French Parliament on a bill allowing broad new surveillance powers, in particular to counter terrorist threats.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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